Augustus can't win
Prizefighting shoots itself in the foot more often than it can afford to, especially when referees stop fights for boxers talking in the ring or refusing to look into the referee's eyes.
But sometimes there is more than meets the eye.
Emmanuel Augustus, 29, lost his IBA junior welterweight title to Tomas Barrientes (26-7) when referee Laurence Cole stopped the fight and disqualified the title-holder because he refused to look him in the eye and for pushing and talking.
In the boxing ring, there are always three people: the two fighters and the referee. Sometimes the battle inside gets so heated the referee has to make split-second decisions that can harm a fighter's career or take away from the fans' enjoyment. It's a fine line.
Augustus defended his newly won IBA title last Friday in Hidalgo, Texas. It was the first defense of the title he won against Alex Trujillo on April 2. When a boxer has a record like Augustus (28-24-6, 13 KOs), the opportunities to win a world title are few, especially in this age of young undefeated fighters who have never faced formidable competition but have spotless records to entice television networks.
Like any tale there are always at least two sides.
Augustus, a boxer of considerable talent but who is criticized for lack of power, said he was on the verge of winning by knockout when the infractions occurred.
"I had the dude hurt, I thought I did, I hit him with some good shots," said Augustus, who participated in the Fight of the Year against Micky Ward in 2001. "I was getting this dude like a pit bull. I had him."
In Augustus's haste to add a knockout to his ledger and to keep his title, the Louisiana native pushed by the referee to add the coup de grace before the moment passed.
"I didn't want to miss an opportunity. People say I have a problem with taking people out," Augustus said. "I didn't want it to fly by."
According to Dick Cole, the head of the Texas Gaming Commission, Augustus pushed the referee and refused to abide by commands in the sixth round.
"He (Augustus) took his opponent and tried to push him up against the ropes, then he pushed the referee," Cole said by telephone. "Then (referee Laurence Cole) told him 'I'm not going to tolerate it.' He told him 'I'm not going to tolerate no rough tactics.' He could have disqualified him for even touching the referee."
It continued in the seventh round, with Augustus landing blows and intent on knocking out Barrientes.
"The fight continued on to the next (seventh) round. I had him hurt again. The guy started doing a whole lot of holding," Augustus said of Barrientes. "One time when the referee broke us up, the dude almost got me and I was fighting out of it."
"The ref said stop. Said no talking, so he took a point from me. I said 'Man I canıt believe it.' Then the same thing happened again. I was trying to get out of it again, and he was holding me and I said, 'Why are you stopping the fight?' He said, 'No talking or I'll take a point away.'
"I said, 'You can't take the point away for talking.' I was looking at the crowd and he said, 'Look at me,' and I didn't so he waved the fight off. I thought, this is messed up."
Cole said the referee did not want to stop the fight but could not let it continue if Augustus would not obey the commands.
"The referee gave him every opportunity in the world. He did take another point away when he pulled the kid (Barrientes) against the ropes. It was already the second point he took away," said Dick Cole, who was in attendance. "The referee wanted to let him off the hook and when he asked him a question he looked down and wouldn't respond. That is why he got disqualified."
Another observer, Norm Longtin, an IBA official there to observe the title fight on behalf of the organization said: "I've never seen Emanuel Augustus so unresponsive. It seemed to get worse and worse as the fight went along. It was like self implosion. He didn't want to listen to anyone."
Augustus, an emotional and entertaining fighter who now lives in Brownsville, Texas, admits he did commit some infractions but feels the stoppage was overkill. He also said he fights with desperation because of his record and inability to land a big money fight.
"(Promoters) told me I'm unmarketable because of my losses. I fought the best people out there," said Augustus, who has fought Leonard Dorin and Kelson Pinto, among others. "They say you don't have no manager, no promoter, you don't deserve this fight. I don't know how to act."
Dick Cole said he's known Augustus for several years and vouches for his superior ability in the ring.
"He lost his cool that was all. He's not a bad kid, just does some things like that," Cole said. "Sometimes people lose their temper and don't control their anger."
Fighters like Augustus do lose their temper, especially after years of losing close decisions. In a fight in February, Augustus dominated undefeated prospect Alvaro Aguilar for six out of eight rounds, but could only earn a draw.
"I don't know why they hate me so much," Augustus said. "'ım trying to make it. Nothing I'm doing is wrong."
How good is Augustus?
"He's the best fighter I've fought," said Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is considered the best fighter in the world today by many.
Time to retire
Texans Paulie Ayala and Raul Marquez are both calling it a career. Both were hard-nosed fighters whose skills were largely unrecognized because of their blue-collar approach. But both won world titles.
Ayala won the bantamweight and junior featherweights titles and was undefeated as world champion. His losses came in the featherweight division and another was a disputed technical decision loss in Japan that was stopped because of a cut.
I met Ayala the week before his first fight with Johnny Tapia in 1999. A press conference at the Friar's Club in Beverly Hills had every boxing writer trying to squeeze in to talk to Tapia who was the celebrity and better-known fighter at the time. Meanwhile, Ayala stood in a corner alone watching the media on the other side of the room devoting their attention to Tapia. I asked Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels to point out Ayala for me and there was the Fort Worth prizefighter with his eyeglasses on, looking like a local college student who took the wrong turn. We talked for about 30 minutes uninterrupted because the other boxing writers figured it was a sure win for Tapia. Meanwhile, Ayala told me his reasons for becoming a boxer and why he was going to surprise people in the ring against Tapia.
I had seen Ayala once before on television and knew he was a skilled fighter who always needed to win on points. But I noticed he was hard to hit, and if a punch did connect he could take it.
What lucky boxing fans got to see that night at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was two fighters putting on a display of grit and determination that overshadowed every fight that year, including the much-hyped Fight of the Millennium between Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya. It was voted Fight of the Year and put Ayala on the radar screen for good. He became a star overnight. Though he never had the pop to stop an opponent with a single punch, he had that warrior spirit that a few fighters possess.
Ayala lost last week against Marco Antonio Barrera. And though he was stopped for the first time in his career, he showed courage and determination as always. Out-gunned by Barrera and dropped three times, if referee Pat Russell hadn't stopped the fight I would bet Ayala would not stop fighting even if he went down 100 times. That's the kind of fighter he is. He represents what boxing is all about.
"He's a very brave fighter," Barrera said as he walked out of the arena that night following the press conference. "I was honored to have fought him."
Raul Marquez is no slouch, either. I remember seeing him win the title at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in 1997. It was the same day that De La Hoya met Pernell Whitaker, so Marquez's fight against Anthony Stephens took place during the day time in front of a lot of empty seats. But the Houston native stopped his opponent in nine rounds and won the vacant IBF junior middleweight title.
Marquez, whose toughness inside the ring was opposite his gentlemanly manners outside, had briefly retired, but the quest for the big payday enticed him back. Beginning with his fight against Shane Mosley and ending with his loss to Jermain Taylor, he always fought his best.
"He's a real tough guy," Taylor said after the fight. "He taught me a lot."
Now the world gets to see the dapper Marquez as he analyzes fights on television for HBO Latino, NBC and also this summer during the Olympic Games in Athens.
"The best moment in my career was making the Olympic team," said Marquez, who was a teammate of De La Hoya during the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. "Also winning the world title in 1997."
Despite never fighting in a big megafight, he's satisfied with what he accomplished.
"I fought some of the best out there," said Marquez who battled Fernando Vargas. Yory Boy Campas and Mosley. "I always gave my best."